Wednesday, June 15, 2011

United Front

Here we go. In United Front, four nations fight against the Lich King Gryphonheart: Erathia, AvLee, Bracada, and Deyja. In the monologue that kicks off the scenario, our long-suffering Queen Catherine laments her war weariness. Indeed, we're going to be in for an extended conflict. United Front is not only the most difficult map in the entire game, it's also the longest.

That's not to say the scenario is filled with sidequests. In fact Heroes III doesn't have much in the way of sidequests. Just a few fetch quests here and there. Bring x hero to y tent. Bring x artifact to y seer hut. Most people forget that it was really Heroes IV that introduced the multiple objectives in a single map format that was so prominent in Heroes V.

It's times like this I thank God Heroes III processes enemy turns quickly. Whenever I click the end turn button it takes the system a mere 3-4 seconds to return control to me. I can't imagine how many hours it would take for Heroes V to process an enemy turn on a map of this size.

The limited resources that I begin the scenario with makes me regret not having used up the previous scenario's funds to train eight heroes. In fact, I had only carried three heroes (along with the necromancer Nimbus) from the previous scenario. Thankfully, the game grated me a new hero: Mephala. The female ranger (a long-time fan favorite... probably because she's pretty) begins at level 5.

I'm not sure how the mechanics of automatic hero assignments works. If I had only carried over one hero from the previous scenario, would the game have granted me four new heroes?

Let's talk about the map. Basically, it's divided into two areas I like to call 'wasteland' and 'grassland.' If you imagine the map as having a vertical and horizontal line down the middle, the wasteland would be found in the upper left quadrant. The other three quadrants consist of grassland.

The wasteland area is where all of the necropoleis are located. The heroes must break through a few garrisons and traverse through cursed ground to reach the enemy.

Cursed ground is really a double edged sword. On one hand, it prevents the enemy necromancers from casting Meteor Shower on your troops when you go on the offensive. Trust me, if given the chance, the enemy will spam Meteor Shower like there's no tomorrow. On the flipside, the cursed ground is a pain in the ass because heroes won't be able to escape danger using Town Portal or Dimension Door.

In the lower right corner of the map, there's a keymaster tent. I found the tent fairly early and was surprised to discover that the corresponding border guard was in the center of the map. It guards a single castle in a pristine valley, in the middle of the necromancers' rot and destruction.

The castle's mage guild taught my heroes the Town Portal. I've already established in earlier posts that the Town Portal spell is incredibly useful and probably the single deciding factor between a long, drawn-out conflict or a brisk firefight.

With the spell on hand, the rest of the map proved simple. The main reason maps on Expert difficulty usually take days to complete is the enemy AI will relentlessly target your weakest city with its strongest hero and take it over. It's hard to garrison enough troops in all of your cities to prevent this from happening. Even if you manage to do so, the enemy will always have the advantage of artifacts and high level heroes.

This was definitely easier to do with the starting four cities (no cursed ground) than any of the enemy necropoleis. I feel obliged to again mention that cursed ground is a pain in the ass.

With Town Portal, guarding the cities becomes easy because you can designate a single hero as the 'defender.' This hero holds all the troops and can teleport to any city that's in danger. The enemy will never capture a single city and you'll simply achieve victory from denying resources and amassing a larger army.

In this scenario, the enemy AI pooled all of its artifacts and troops for two heroes: Aislinn and Moandor. I decided to play cat and mouse with those two heroes. Whenever one of those heroes neared my town, I would send a hero on a hit and run mission. My goal was not to kill Ainslinn and Moandor. They were far too strong for me. My goal was to simply damage their army enough that the computer AI would forgo an attack on my town.

I soon discovered that Moandor was equipped with the Shackles of War, which prevented my heroes from surrendering or retreating from combat. Unwilling to lose my high level heroes, I decided to try a different strategy. Whenever Moandor approached a town, I lured him away with a hero with a seemingly weak army. Then, I sent the hero to a sanctuary before Moandor could finish him.

By keeping Aislinn and Moandor occupied, I slowly captured all of the necropoleis on the map.

This triggered the two heroes to immediately head toward the nearest town and try to capture it. This time, I had a huge army waiting for them. As Aislinn approached my Rampart with her seeming endless vampire lords, I warped my heroes one by one to intercept and wear down Aislinn's army.

Finally, I sent Tyris to deliver the final blow. The benefit of capturing all the necropoleis first is that the enemy can't retreat.

As for Moandor, he headed toward one of my unguarded necropoleis. I took the remains of Tyris' army and teleported. Although thoroughly outnumbered, Moandor crashed his army into my garrison and was defeated.

All that's left now is to destroy Lich King Gryphonheart in his castle! My only complaint is that Gryphonheart doesn't actually lead an army against you. He just sits in his castle while his minions do all the work.

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